By Joshua Chestnut
Fasting by Scot McKnight has been out for a few years now (which means you can find plenty of used copies online for cheap!), and it is a very helpful little gem. New Testament scholar McKnight gives a readable and highly informed account of the Christian practice of fasting, which he presents through the lens of “responsive body talk.”
Perhaps this way of thinking of fasting — “responsive body-talk” — needs a little unpacking. First, “Body-Talk.” McKnight helpfully situates his discussion of what fasting is within the larger Biblical vision of being human: a person is a duality of body and soul (i.e. there are two distinct but intricately united parts), but not a dualism (i.e. an antagonism or hierarchy between body and soul). This is in contrast to some popular presentations of fasting that can make it out to be a practice in which the soul works against the body by suppressing its desires and depriving it of food, implying that getting around the body is the path to spiritual growth. This is a way of thinking about the body and soul foreign to the Biblical vision of human spirituality.
Second, “Responsive.” Sometimes when fasting is discussed it is presented as though it were some sort of magic way to get what we want, be it tighter abs or spiritual growth — both good things mind you — but McKnight helpfully points out how when people fast in the Bible, this sort of “instrumental” logic is not part of the equation. While this sort of results-oriented approach to fasting makes sense to many of us in late-capitalist consumer societies, it would be alien to our spiritual ancestors. Looking at many instances of fasting throughout the Bible (e.g. in repentance, in sorrow or grief, at a crossroads, in light of the evil and injustice of our world), McKnight concludes that the logic to Christian fasting is not so much if-you-fast-you-will-get x, y or z, but instead, “when grievous or sacred moments in life happen, God’s people fast.” Fasting then is a whole person’s response of body and soul to life’s sacred moments. It is full-person prayer.
McKnight’s book clocks in at around 200 pages but with its large print, small page format and easy to read prose, it can be read fairly quickly. The book is full of wisdom, grace and humility and is a wonderful place to start when thinking about how to approach fasting.